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ISLAMABAD – A car bomb exploded near an office of Pakistan’s main intelligence agency in the eastern city of Faisalabad on Tuesday, killing 25 people in the type of militant attack that is growing more common in Pakistan’s populous heartland.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was aimed at the intelligence office, the Associated Press reported.

Police said the bomb, which was detonated at a gas station, sparked additional explosions of natural gas cylinders that compounded the damage. The blast destroyed parts of several businesses, including an office of Pakistan’s national airline, and wounded at least 100 people.

Sectarian violence is common in Faisalabad, Pakistan‘s third-largest city and a textile-producing hub, but Tuesday’s blast was the first major militant attack there. Militants have often staged bombings in other large cities, including Lahore, about 80 miles to the east, and have regularly targeted Pakistan’s security forces, who in recent years have carried out several counter-terror offensives against insurgent hideouts in the mountainous northwest.

Now, Pakistani authorities and analysts say, violent extremist organizations are spreading across Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital.

Southern Punjab is home to militant groups that traditionally focused attacks on Indian targets but are now believed to be deepening ties to Taliban factions in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The bombing came nearly a week after the assassination of federal cabinet minister Shahbaz Bhatti, whose killing was claimed by a group calling itself the Punjabi Taliban.

Bhatti, a Christian, had spoken out against Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws, which are most commonly enforced in Punjab province. The laws are fiercely defended by religious organizations, who contend that those who break the statutes – and their supporters – deserve death.

 

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